September 21, 2013
Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Annual Conference
324 University Ave., Third Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210
Dear Bishop Webb,
The theological, doctrinal, spiritual and personal reasons for dismissing the charges against Rev. Steve Heiss have been thoroughly and movingly presented in other letters. I would like to offer an historical argument for why you should dismiss the charges.
I started studying, teaching and writing about history thirty years ago. I have studied, taught and written about a variety of topics from a variety of historical eras and geographical settings. Even though I left the classroom last May, I am still an historian through and through. Three decades of work as an historian has taught me two fundamental truths about humanity.
The first is that humans create history through the choices we make and through the courses of action we choose to pursue. This insight might sound commonplace, even banal, but it is hardly that. Many historians, even some of the most widely respected ones, err in the assumption that history is made by ideologies or by social or economic systems or by cultural constructs or by circumstances or pure chance. All of these interpretive models are important, but they are all secondary to the basic fact that human beings choose to pursue certain courses of actions that have consequences, some of which are predictable and some of which are unexpected.
Second, I've learned that the most important choice human beings have is whether to follow or disregard the divine plan in history. The claim that God actually has a plan and works it out in history is rejected by the vast majority of historians. By forming a broad and holistic understanding of what it means to be human, however, a minority of historians, myself included, know that God is and always has been active in human choices and in the historical patterns that are shaped by human choices.
A significant component of God's plan in history is an expansion of freedom in how human beings live their lives. I won't provide the evidence here because it stretches back to the very beginning of civilization and a list of it would go on for pages. I will point out that God's plan is currently unfolding in the increasing freedom in how gays and lesbians live their lives. The expansion of freedom for gays and lesbians is happening in the halls of politics, in law courts at every level, in families, in the hearts and minds of ordinary people and in churches. The movement has gained sufficient momentum to make the achievement of complete freedom for gays and lesbians inevitable, imminently in the United States and Europe, somewhat further along in time for the rest of the world. And in this particular area of God's plan of expanding human freedom, the United Methodist Church, as an institution, swims against the divine current.
Bishop Webb, you have been given a magnificent historical opportunity to choose, to either follow the institution and swim against the divine current, or to allow yourself to be carried along by it until you arrive at that place where the fulfillment of God's plan is realized. Don't get me wrong--I'm not talking about a leisurely tubing trip down a winding waterway in late July. Especially in this case, jumping into God's stream of history-in-action might be more akin to diving into a raging torrent of whitewater, strewn with dangerous rocks.
As you make your decision, I pray that you clearly understand where God is leading not just you, not just Rev. Heiss and Rev. Barton, not just the Upper New York Annual Conference or the United Methodist Church, but rather where God is leading the whole of humanity. I pray that you choose wisely, even if the wise choice is also the one with the more dangerous consequences.
Rev. Tom Pullyblank